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[re:tell] Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic

[re:tell] Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Several weeks ago now, I can remember going to school and noticing increased safety precautions being implemented as sad news spread of the growing negative effects of COVID-19 on the health of humans around the world. 


I had a conversation with my statistics professor about what life might look like if we were not able to come to school in the coming weeks. I wasn’t sure and he wasn’t either. Our conversation was hopeful. We spoke like it was all just hypothetical. He concluded by saying, “we’ll see when the time comes.” Just hours later, Ontario declared public schools would close after March break. Post-secondary institutions soon followed suit and with that, our lives turned upside down. I haven’t seen my professor in person since our conversation.

It’s weird how life works, even though we’d been hearing reports of this virus spreading for weeks and knew it was only a matter of time until it came to Canada, the thought of seeing the country shut down and daily life stalled never settled in until the hammer dropped that Thursday evening. The school closures and the countless government actions that followed brought along fear and panic as anxiety and confusion about the situation escalated rapidly. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind, with ups and downs, moments of hope and feelings of despair.

At first, I tried my best to stay informed with what’s happening in the world by watching CBC’s The National newscast on a daily basis. It felt important to keep up with what was happening to understand how best to protect myself and others, but as the days went on, with my usual schedule disrupted, I felt little motivation to do anything else but watch the news. It stopped serving any positive purpose. Every time I tuned in, I heard the sadness and fear in the stories that grew hour by hour as more Canadians were affected and strict government action increased. The feelings of despair and anxiety increased. Survival instincts had kicked in. It was clear we were at a pivotal moment.

At home, I started a serious cleaning regimen to be extra safe. I wanted to do everything I could to stop the spread. After a quick weekend trip to the grocery store, I was in for a surprise to see how people had forgotten the basic grade school lesson, sharing is caring. I walked into the grocery store prepared for a messy situation, instead it looked like it had been struck by a tornado. My neighbours managed to ravage every aisle of the store as if preparing for years in lockdown. I stood in the middle of the shop and took a deep breath. It seemed like the worst in humanity was coming out. Without the guidance of public health education and calm leadership, I thought, this could lead to disaster.

While I sympathized with these emotional reactions to uncertainty and instability, it became very clear to me that in times of difficulty, we need to learn to do better for ourselves and for each other. The challenges we face dealing with COVID-19 as a collective aren’t going away any time soon. In the weeks and months ahead, some things will improve and some things will get harder. It doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of the situation and try to find the silver lining in a catastrophe.

Here are a few hopeful reflections I’ve had over the past few weeks that I’d like to share:

  • People are mostly kind, love to socialize and desire human connection. Though we’re all at home helping to flatten the curve, checking in on each other regularly through technology is what will help spread positivity and joy in our current way of living.
  • We are fortunate to live in a country with some of the best doctors in the world doing the best they can to help save us from this difficult dilemma.
  • Some of the things that have helped get me through might help you too: read a book (I recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma), learn a new skill (Cooking? Baking a cake?), catch up on family stories. Try to nurture your spirit. 
  • Given the loneliness and other difficult feelings that social isolation can cause, sometimes we need something that excites us to draw our focus away and get us motivated and energized. In the past few days, I’ve turned to goal-setting and planning and I’ve taken up passion projects like joining student advocacy groups. Joining these groups with like-minded individuals has helped me develop a creative outlet to brainstorm new ideas and get involved with the greater community. Isolation can take a toll but I firmly believe that by engaging in projects that get your creative juices flowing, mental health and happiness are boosted.
I understand that a call for positivity may not speak to all the struggles and stresses that you may be facing, whether with finances or family separation. I’ve been reminding myself time and time again that, although the anxiety associated with the pandemic will stick around for some time, staying true to my values and listening to public health advice is the way to weather the storm. 

I want you to know, we will get through this and this too shall pass! Together as fellow students, Canadians, humans, let’s be sure to have each others’ backs!


Himanshu Luthra is a George Brown College student. This is his second contribution to re:tell.

[re:tell] From Addict to Law Student

[re:tell] From Addict to Law Student

The term “mature student” has always made me chuckle. While I wouldn’t choose “mature” to describe myself, I do find myself now with a second chance to study and I do view it as a new beginning in my life journey.


To understand why I consider this a second chance, I need to tell you a little about my history. Let’s step back in time to when I was fresh meat in high school, ready to be chewed up and swallowed by the system.


Society tells young women how they should be and I wasn’t it. I wore male clothes and had classmates questioning my gender. I made a friend named Steve who would tell me it was okay to be whoever I want to be. If I wanted to wear boy clothes, why not? Steve was a little rough around the edges, his parents smoked and drank a lot and he had a reputation as a wild child. I looked up to him and his strength. I started to drink with him. I could get drunk but still excel in school, which made me confident I could balance my bad habit.


In 10th grade, Steve and I had a falling out. Soon after, he moved away and we lost touch. His “I don’t care” attitude stayed with me though. I got a part-time job where I had my first hit of a joint. Soon after I started to skip class to get high. My marks started to deteriorate. In 11th grade, a classmate introduced me to a drug called ketamine and I was instantly hooked. I started to find connections to buy through classmates. I’d cut lines in the café. I felt untouchable because nobody noticed and I was still passing my classes.


I finished high school and went off to college. I lived in a dorm on campus and “fortunately” there was a pub attached to my building. My drinking escalated. I would go home on weekends to pick up enough ketamine to keep me stable throughout the week. Two years later, I left with a diploma in hand and a full-blown addiction, but I wouldn’t admit it at the time. I started working full time and just like that I was a “member of society,” but with a white nose.


In 2012, I got word Steve had taken his own life. I couldn’t understand why. I felt guilty that I hadn’t kept in touch. In 2013, another high school friend of mine, Sasha, took her own life, as well. My friends were disappearing off the map and I believed I was doomed, too. My drug use increased. I started living in a drug house. I still worked to fund my habit, but it was never enough. At this point, I finally admitted I was an addict, but I felt okay because I was functional.


By 2014, I was fed up with my life. I was self-harming, chasing highs and barely surviving lows. I had absolutely no hope that I would get out of the destructive cycle. I was sick of myself and sick of being a slave to a drug. I wanted out and I needed to take action. I did a lot of self-reflection and came out as bisexual. I told my parents, who were very supportive. I also started a smoking cessation program with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. After a year, I quit smoking cigarettes and self-harming, but I was still snorting ketamine and I’d even added cocaine to my drug resume.


I slowly began to value myself more. By being true to myself, drugs started to slip from being my top priority. My life gradually morphed into one of self-care and self-respect. I started to see a social worker and she walked me through the basic areas I needed to tackle. I started to transform my dependent relationship with drugs into an occasional one until one day, I just stopped. I threw myself into work and was quickly promoted.


At a certain point, I knew I needed more resources to help me maintain my sobriety. It was mentally draining to do it by myself. I became a client at Addiction Services of York Region and started cognitive-behavioural therapy. It was rough. It resurrected the emotions of past traumas that I had kept hidden away. I started to self-harm again. My counsellor admitted me to the hospital where the psychiatrist diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I started taking medication that helped my thoughts become more focused. Before, it had felt like a million voices shouting at once.


At work, I reached a point where I peaked. The challenge was no longer there and I wanted more. I decided to go back to school—sober this time—to see what I could achieve without addiction holding me back.


Now, here I am. With a clear mind, I’m setting goals and taking action to make them a reality. Where I used to feel shame and remorse, now I feel pride in my growth and evolution. I’m still a client at Addiction Services of York Region, though I recently switched to a new counsellor for therapy more specific to BPD. I also the Maple app through Seneca to assist me in times of need. I am using all the support I have through Seneca. I am now achieving 90% in most of my classes, and I am in a great relationship with a supportive girlfriend. After walking a winding path with many ups and downs, I can finally—and proudly—say, I am stable.


Some days when I am walking through the hallways, I stop in awe. I’m happy where I am. I hope to keep making new goals and achieving them.

This blog is part of our re:tell series that showcases stories from Canadian postsecondary students.